National LGBTI Health Alliance
The National LGBTI Health Alliance (the Alliance) is gravely concerned about the damaging impact that the national dialogue on the issue of marriage equality is having on our communities. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people and their families, are being told to wait while it is decided whether to confer equal rights for all couples to be married before the law. The Alliance seeks to focus attention on the impacts that this discussion and process is having on the mental health and wellbeing of LGBTI people, communities and their families.
As an Alliance, we recognise that the diversity of human bodies, genders, sexualities, relationships and identities is far broader than any single acronym can encompass. From experience, we know that debate conducted by those outside of our communities can lack nuanced understanding about our diverse lives and identities.
This causes harm and risks significant splintering in social cohesion.
We also know that many LGBTI people experience significantly worse mental and physical health outcomes, when compared with the wider Australian community [i]. This is due to factors including social exclusion, stigma, discrimination and violence. At the same time, there is a growing body of medical and social research demonstrating the health benefits which flow on from having one’s relationships recognised.
This includes equal marriage rights.
- All Australians have the right privacy, dignity and self-respect and LGBTI people, are the sole agents of our own bodies
- Key aspects of our personal lives – namely, our intimate relationships and family structures – are private matters which should not be up for widespread, public discussion and political debate and public vote.
- Our communities do not require a national public vote to obtain legal recognition of a personal lives as the proposed plebiscite implies.
The health impacts a public discussion is having
- As a community, we are already witnessing a rise in the levels of stress and anxiety within LGBTI communities over the proposed plebiscite. People are genuinely distressed over public debate about our private lives.
- The debate has already moved beyond the original intention of the plebiscite (same-sex marriage) to centre on our communities’ legitimacy as parents, family members, students and even citizens of Australia.
- As discussion over relationship equality and family legitimacy increases, we’re seeing a profound impact on people’s ability to withstand opinions on the validity of their lives and family units. There is an increasing need to seek places of refuge and safety where public comment and opinion cannot penetrate.
- Even the most resilient of our community have been impacted by increased public debate and mass media attention on our participation in our country’s legal, education and health systems.
- Over the past six months there has been a 29% increase in demand for QLife Support Services.
These are obvious public health implications which we consider unacceptable.
Why our communities are vulnerable
In 2016, Australia’s LGBTI communities remain vulnerable to social exclusion, discrimination, bullying, violence and social stigma. As health and medical practitioners are well aware, this results in significant mental and physical health outcomes compared to the Australian community at large. Much of this stems from confusion about the important differences between sexuality, gender identity, and a persons biological sex characteristics.
LGBTI people in Australia today continue to endure physical violence, demeaning language, and discrimination. Almost half of our communities choose to hide their sexual orientation or gender histories and identities in public, for fear of violence or discrimination.[i]
In 2012 a La Trobe University study revealed that a significant proportion lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans people hide their sexuality or gender identity at work (39 per cent), at social and community events (42 per cent) and when accessing services (34 per cent). [ii]
We note that people with intersex characteristics are frequently invisible in these conversations about marriage equality. In terms of biological sex characteristics, a recent report highlighted that 59% people with intersex variations did not tell their employer about their variation. [iv]
The younger members of our community (1 in 15 Australians in their 20s identify as homosexual[iii]) already experience verbal homophobic abuse (61 per cent) and physical homophobic abuse (18 per cent). This is in addition to cyber bullying, discriminatory graffiti, social exclusion and public humiliation.
For those seeking support, healing and help, there is the added pressure of insufficient access to appropriate healthcare and existing funding for specialist mental health services fails to meet existing needs. A substantial increase in specialist programs and supports for members of our communities and their families is already justified, and further public debate will only increase this.
For further information and support, there are a number of resources, reports and community supports listed below.
- Going Upstream: A framework for promoting the positive mental health of LGBTI people
- Practice Wisdom: Working therapeutically with LGBTI clients
- QLives Narrative Project: A video project featuring the stories of LGBTI people from around Australia
- QGuides for Health Professionals: Topic-based resources featuring expert information for supporting LGBTI people
- Statistics at a glance: An Overview of the statistics reflecting the Mental Health of LGBTI Australians.
Community Support Resources
- Marriage Equality Resource for Health Services: ACON NSW
- Rainbow Families Information Kit: Rainbow Families VIC; Rainbow Families NSW
- Private Lives 2: The second national survey of the health and wellbeing of GLBT Australians
- A Closer Look at Private Lives 2: addressing the mental health and well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Australians
- Writing themselves in 3: The third national study on the sexual health and wellbeing of same sex attracted and gender questioning young people.
- The impacts of marriage equality and marriage denial on the health of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people: Evidence Review & Annotated Bibliography
[i] “Private Lives 2: The second national survey of the health and wellbeing of GLBT Australians”, Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, La Trobe University, 2012
[ii] “Private Lives 2: The second national survey of the health and wellbeing of GLBT Australians”, Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, La Trobe University, 2012
[iv] T, J., B, H., M, C., G, A., W, L., & J, L. (2016). Intersex: Stories and Statistics from Australia. OpenBook Publishers. Retrieved from http://oii.org.au/wp-content/uploads/key/Intersex-Stories-Statistics-Australia.pdf